One of the most upsetting and insulting remarks made by Gurdjieff was his statement that Man is a machine. Unfortunately, Gurdjieff was right; for practical purposes we are machines in multitudes of ways we fail to recognize. We should be upset!
A person may appear to be acting intelligently and consciously, but he may be mechanically "running on automatic". By mistakenly thinking he is conscious, he blocks the possibility of real consciousness. Gurdjieff constantly emphasized that almost all human misery results from the fact that our lives are automatic, mechanical affairs. You (your behavior, thoughts and feelings) are then the effect of external and historical causes, rather than the cause, the initiator of desired actions.
Problems occur when reality changes but your automated responses carry on. Identities and defenses are reactively enacted. Though appropriate for the time they were set up, these are usually inappropriate for the present situation. When the situation fits an internal stereotype, your automated reaction then follows.
If you have an emotional investment in the stereotype (feeling superior, dominant or safe) that makes it even more rigid, and you are unlikely to perceive that reality differs significantly. The automated stereotypings we know of as racist, ageist, sexist, classist, nationalist and so on, are enormously costly. Automated perceptions, emotions, thoughts, reactions and particularly identities, frequently become associated with many situations, so we can be lost for long periods - a lifetime in the extreme - in automated living, rarely being the mature Adult, the truly awake Self.
Man is a machine, but a very peculiar machine - a machine that can know he is a machine - but having fully realized this, he may find the ways to cease to be a machine.
The illusion of unity of Self is created firstly by the sensation of one physical body, secondly by one name and thirdly by a number of mechanical habits that are imposed on him by education or acquired by imitation. Having always the same physical sensations, hearing always the same name and noticing in himself the same habits and inclinations he had before, he believes himself to be always the same.
Continue to the next article, Consensus Trance